Learning to Use the Health Care System

Note: The tips shared on this page may refer to "parents," but they also apply to caregivers, such as guardians, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. There are many factors that affect whether a caregiver participates in health care visits, provides health supports to young people, or can access an adolescent’s health information.

Preventive health care visits offer an ideal opportunity to help teens learn how to navigate the health care system. Adolescents need opportunities to gain a better understanding of their own health and to learn what happens during health care appointments. Some clinics and offices are making their practices more “teen friendly” so that teens feel welcome. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends providing teens confidential, one-on-one time as a part of routine health care as early as age 11 in addition to time together with parents and caregivers. Teens are far more likely to be forthcoming with questions regarding sensitive topics such as drug use, mental health concerns, or sexual activity when alone with health care providers.1 One study found that 49 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported having time alone during their most recent preventive visit, and only 29 percent reported having alone time during their most recent health care visit.2

Receiving regular health care at the same primary care facility will introduce teens to the concept of having a “medical home,” or a regular source of health care that is “accessible, continuous, comprehensive, family-centered, coordinated, compassionate and culturally-effective”3 to improve the quality of health care a teen receives.


1 Lawrence, R. S., Gootman J. A., & Sim, L. J. (Eds.). (2009.) Adolescent health services: Missing opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. back to top

2 Adams, S.H., Po, J., Park, M.J., & Irwin, C.E. (2021). Monitoring adolescents' receipt of time alone from two national surveys. Journal of Adolescent Health, 68(1). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X20302226 back to top

3 American Academy of Pediatrics, Medical Home Initiatives for Children with Special Needs Project Advisory Committee. (2002). The medical home. Pediatrics, 110(1). https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/110/1/184/64107/The-Medical-Home back to top